“The First Casualty”(2005) by Ben Elton.
I had this book bought for me and wanted it to be predictable and cringe worthy, rather like Ben Elton’s execrable TV sit com “The Wright Stuff” (BBC1 Tuesdays 1030pm). Fortunately, like the aforementioned TV train wreck of lazy stereotypes and risible characterisations, “The First Casualty” did not let me down. It actually had a fairly promising start as we were party the wrangling of consciences as a London Police Inspector (the main protagonist Kingsley) justifies his unwillingness to serve King and Country in the First World War. But that’s as good as it got. We were then treated to a woeful procession of card board cut out characters. From the dreadful portrayal of gay, and women participants to the hopelessly patronising approach to working class and Irish characters every click of Elton’s keyboard seemed programmed to produce a book by numbers. The “plot” surrounded the murder of an officer held in a hospital for shell shock victims but then meandered pointlessly until I had lost the will to live and skimmed the final section. I couldn’t have cared less “whodunnit” having called it with 50 pages to go. Dreadful.
“Doomsday” (2010) by Graham Brown.
My dog has no nose…….
“Nausea” (1938) by Jean Paul Sartre
I was lucky to have a long line of inspirational teachers right through my state comprehensive experience and Trudi Morrissey was right up there with the best. Mad as a bag of spanners but with rock solid values of mutual respect and a healthy distrust of the establishment, she taught French A level and Sartre’s “Les Mains Sales”, along with Collette’s controversial “Le Ble en Herbe” were our chosen works. “So what? Standard fare”, I hear you say. But what you need to understand is that this was north Hull, working class and above all a Roman Catholic environment. By tacking the themes on offer Miss. Morrissey and her equally committed colleague Father John Collier were taking a massive gamble. The very nature of Sartre’s philosophy meant we were debating the very existence of God himself, and with the other novel the meaning of sexual manipulation was on the table. Heady stuff. I was rapidly developing my socialist values at the time and this was the height of the Miners Strike and the Cold War. Father Collier took the extraordinary step of publicly joining CND and then conducting an assembly explaining why, as a Catholic Priest he was morally obligated to become politically engaged. I can only imagine the discussions in the Staff Room afterwards…. But it made me question what was going on around me and take active steps to do something about it.I read “Nausea” in my early 20’s and found it profound and amazing as we are let into the strange mind of historical writer Roquentin as he suffers multiple crises of being, to the extent that he mulls over the existential meaning of puddles. As a novel is it very hard reading even now, and if I’m totally honest the fact that it was written in 1938 at the height of the Spanish Civil War and during the inexorable rise of Nazism in Europe, and when you consider the havoc being wrecked by the failure of Capitalism worldwide in our era, Sartre’s musings seem a tad narcissistic. But on the other hand would his genius later works such as “Huis Clos” and “Les Mains Sales” been written without this examination of self? Maybe “Nausea” should be seen in this context.
The Death of Eli Gold (2012) by David Baddiel.
Saving the best til last I really enjoyed this intelligent, thoughtful and reflective novel set in New York from Baddiel who is better known for his TV comedy and stand up career. Eli Gold is an ageing writer, considered to be the best of his generation who is about to depart this mortal coil. We are spectators at his deathbed and are taken on a journey into the past both of Eli and his estranged family as they meet for the first time. Far away in the UK Eli’s anonymous ex wife comes to terms with how her life has panned out and in NYC his middle aged eldest son comes to reflect on the age and nature of celebrity whilst the writer’s seven year old daughter has to deal with the very public death of her Dad. Put in the “must read” pile and you won’t be disappointed.